Figures from Shelter Scotland’s ‘Impact Report’ have highlighted that a shortage of affordable homes, welfare reform and stagnant wages have seen tenants struggling to afford housing costs.
The report shows that from April 20016 to March 2017 the housing and homelessness charity helped more than 21,000 people or individuals via its free national helpline, digital chat service and one-to-one advice sessions. There were also more than 825,000 unique visits to its online Get Advice pages in Scotland.
Around 46% of people needing help were private renters which the charity says is disproportionate to the size of the private rented sector which provides only 14% of homes in Scotland.
Of all people helped, 46% were between 16 and 34 years old, which indicates that a higher proportion of younger people are bearing the brunt of Scotland’s housing crisis.
The main reason people gave for needing help (44%) was ‘keeping their home’ i.e. struggling to afford their housing costs or facing eviction. 29% of people who came to Shelter Scotland last year wanted help to ‘find a home’ – including advice and assistance with homelessness.
More than 1,000 people visited the charity for help who were already homeless.
Alison Watson, deputy director of Shelter Scotland, said: “Last year we were busier than ever helping people with bad housing and homelessness. This report shows the disproportionate impact of Scotland’s housing crisis on young people and private renters who are both over-represented in the number of people we helped.
“The terrible shortage of truly affordable homes, harsh welfare reforms, stagnant wages and the high cost of keeping a roof over their head are the main reasons driving people to ask for help.
“Struggling to afford or pay housing costs is the biggest presenting problem people have when coming to us for help.”
Alison Watson added: “The statistics speak for themselves – on average, a household in Scotland becomes homeless every 19 minutes. We are seeing more reports of rough sleepers dying on our city streets. Unknown numbers are sofa surfing with friends and families as they don’t have, or cannot afford, a home of their own. Our teams were contacted by more than 1,000 households who were already homeless.
“Behind those statistics are people, families, individuals – people on low incomes, people with complex needs, people in crisis – some of the most vulnerable people on our society.
“These are the people we help day-in and day-out and, until there’s a decent, safe and secure home for everyone, we’ll be here to do whatever we can to help everyone in Scotland facing bad housing and homelessness who may need our expert advice and support.”
Responding to the report, the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) said the country’s housing crisis can only be tackled with a sustained long-term approach.
Sarah Boyack, SFHA head of public affairs, said: “This report by Shelter Scotland highlights that Scotland desperately needs to tackle its housing crisis. While we welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to increase the affordable housing target to 50,000 homes, we need a sustained long-term approach that goes beyond the lifetime of the current parliament.
“The report also shows that welfare reform is one of the main reasons that people have turned to the charity for help. Unfortunately, this is not surprising when welfare policies, such as Universal Credit, can see new claimants waiting up to six weeks until they receive payment. The SFHA has repeatedly called for the roll-out of Universal Credit to be halted until it can be shown to be working safely and will continue to lobby the UK government on this and other welfare reforms which are negatively affecting our members and their tenants.”
Alison Watson added: “Our Impact Report also shows the tremendous amount of work that we do behind the scenes to ensure that housing policy in Scotland is robust and protects as many people as possible from bad practice – such as the 19 policy papers and 25 responses to Scottish Government consultations we published last year alone.
“And along with 26 campaign days in towns and cities throughout Scotland and the more than 600 people we provided training to – it’s been an incredibly busy year and the next 12 months is set to be more of the same.
“We thank all our supporters, volunteers and staff for ensuring we can carry-on delivering the vital support and advice to the people who need us most.”